When should you eat easy to digest foods?

Foods that are soft or easy to chew and swallow are also more digestible than dry, chewy, or tough foods.

What you need to know:

  • Note that the easiest foods to digest tend to be low in dietary fibre and fat. They are also milder in flavour, meaning they typically lack acidity and heat. Foods that are soft or easy to chew and swallow are also more digestible than dry, chewy, or tough foods. 

Complete digestion can take anywhere from four to 72 hours, depending on the food one has eaten. Easy to digest foods are those that go through the process of digestion rather quickly, making the nutrients in the food available for use by body cells. 

The digestive system consists of many complex and crucial moving parts. Different parts perform various functions to process food as it makes its way from one end to the other. Some foods are hard to digest while others are not. 

If you have had a surgery that involves the digestive tract, you will be required to start with clear liquids, followed by purees and then easy to digest foods before you can return to normal diet. The easily digestible foods lessen the stress on the system and promote healing.

Amanda Twebaze, a nutritionist at Human Mechanic Physiotherapy in Naguru, says the elderly, those with specific severe nutrient deficiencies and babies being weaned, people with inflammation in the stomach, small intestines, those with peptic ulcer disease, slowed stomach emptying, Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) flares, cancers requiring radiation therapy to the pelvis or lower abdomen need easy to digest foods.

If you have ever suffered from indigestion or a bad case of food poisoning, you likely know that choosing simple, easy to digest foods can help ease symptoms of indigestion. They essentially make the body work a little less hard to make digestive processes happen.

One of the basic characteristic of easy to digest foods is that they are low in dietary fibre and fat. They are also mild in flavour, easy to chew and swallow and are more digestible than dry, chewy, or tough foods. Foods that are easy to digest are easy on the digestive system and give it a break. 

Low fibre foods

It is important to increase your fibre intake everyday but if one is dealing with a digestive upset, taking foods that are low in fibre can help. This is because fibre is an indigestible carbohydrate that moves down the digestive track without being broken down.  

If one is experiencing symptoms such as abdominal bloating and diarrhoea, eating foods rich in fibre can increase the amount of undigested food moving through the digestive tract and speed up intestinal motility (the movement of food from the mouth through the pharynx (throat), esophagus, stomach, small and large intestines, and out of the body), making them more harmful than helpful.

Twebaze recommends refined grain products such as white rice, white bread, and white pastas whose fibre components have been removed to give the intestines a break. Also, low fibre fruits such as bananas, melons, peeled apples, peaches and pears are also considered easy-to-digest foods.

Cooked vegetables

Just as fresh fruits, raw vegetables are harder to digest compared to cooked vegetables. Cooking vegetables makes their cell walls softer and their starch more readily accessible to digestive enzymes in the body. They, therefore, become gentler on the digestive system and easy to digest.

Easy-to-digest vegetables include well-cooked beets, potatoes with their peels removed, spinach, zucchini, squash, carrots and green beans, among others.

Although animal proteins do not contain fibre, they can still be hard to digest if they are tough, chewy, or high in fat. Soft animal proteins that are easy to chew and contain low amounts of fat can be helpful. Scrambled eggs, and ground meats can be well tolerated by an upset gut. 

Soups, smoothies and purees

“The ability to digest some foods sometimes depends on how they are prepared. Although texture modification strategies such as blending do not change foods' fibre content, they can help reduce the size of the fibre particles in plant foods, which can in turn make them gentler on the digestive system,” healthline.com states.

It is, therefore, important that you blend or cook the foods into soups, smoothies, porridge and purees so that you can help kick-start the mechanical digestion process that normally begins in your mouth.

Sometimes, it is helpful to emphasise bland, easy-to-digest foods when experiencing severe gas, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhoea.

Hard-to-digest foods

Hard to digest foods on the other hand include high fibre vegetables such as raw broccoli or cauliflower, garlic and onions. Others include high-fat and fried foods, processed meats such as sausages, dried meats, dried fruits as well as artificial sweeteners. 

These also include foods with tough fibres or thick stems, peels and seeds, such as broccoli, asparagus and pomegranates, legumes such as beans, chickpeas and lentils, whole nuts and seeds, acidic foods such as citrus fruits and tomato-based products, spicy foods, alcohol, caffeinated beverages such as coffee and black teas. 

“It is important to have a mix of both in moderation so that you can benefit from all food nutrients provided by these foods,” says Amanda. 

For example, easy to digest foods have a soothing effect on the digestive tract while other foods, although hard to digest, have beneficial outcomes. For example, vegetables contain fibre, which provides a suitable environment for probiotic good gut bacteria which offers satiety to the body and prevents constipation. Meat has a high quality type of protein which our muscular system needs.

“If you suffer from mild lactose intolerance, consuming dairy may exacerbate your digestive discomfort. The probiotics contained in fermented dairy products may, however, be helpful in easing digestive problems since they are soft and easy to swallow,” Amanda Twebaze, a nutritionist, says. 

If you tolerate dairy, choose low-fat dairy products when digestion is compromised since it is easier to digest. 

Not all foods listed will exacerbate your symptoms. The foods you can and cannot tolerate will depend on why you are experiencing digestive symptoms in the first place. 

For example, peppermint tea can be problematic for people struggling with GERD occurs when stomach acid repeatedly flows back into the tube connecting your mouth and stomach (esophagus), but helpful for people struggling with mild stomach upset or nausea. 

Twebaze says if you are experiencing ongoing digestive discomfort, it is important to work with a gastroenterologist (a specialist with expertise in the disorders and diseases that affect the digestive system) to determine the root cause of your symptoms. Meeting with a registered dietitian can also help you find a varied diet that is both nutritionally complete and well tolerated.